James Lovelock, the maverick scientist who became a guru to the environmental movement with his “Gaia” theory of the Earth as a single organism, has admitted to being “alarmist” about climate change and says other environmental commentators, such as Al Gore, were too. Lovelock, 92, is writing a new book in which he will say climate change is still happening, but not as quickly as he once feared. He previously painted some of the direst visions of the effects of climate change. In 2006, in an article in the U.K.’s Independent newspaper, he wrote that “before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.”
However, the professor admitted in a telephone interview with msnbc.com that he now thinks he had been “extrapolating too far.”
…[the new book] will also reflect his new opinion that global warming has not occurred as he had expected.
“The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened…The climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now…The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time… it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising — carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that,” he added.
He pointed to Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and Tim Flannery’s “The Weather Makers” as other examples of “alarmist” forecasts of the future.
In 2007, Time magazine named Lovelock as one of 13 leaders and visionaries in an article on “Heroes of the Environment,” which also included Gore, Mikhail Gorbachev and Robert Redford.
Good to see that Mr. Chernobyl made the cut.
But back to Lovelock…
…Asked if he was now a climate skeptic, Lovelock told msnbc.com: “It depends what you mean by a skeptic. I’m not a denier.”
He said human-caused carbon dioxide emissions were driving an increase in the global temperature, but added that the effect of the oceans was not well enough understood and could have a key role.
“It (the sea) could make all the difference between a hot age and an ice age,” he said.
He said he still thought that climate change was happening, but that its effects would be felt farther in the future than he previously thought.
“We will have global warming, but it’s been deferred a bit,” Lovelock said.
’I made a mistake’. As “an independent and a loner,” he said he did not mind saying “All right, I made a mistake.” He claimed a university or government scientist might fear an admission of a mistake would lead to the loss of funding.
It’s worth reading the whole thing. Agree or disagree with Lovelock’s conclusions, it’s good to see that he has room for the idea that we don’t know all that we don’t know. His, it seems, is becoming an environmentalism of doubt. It’s interesting to speculate as to why Lovelock was so certain before. The fact that less was “known” about the complexity of climate systems may, as he says, be a part of it, but that really should not have been so much of a surprise. There was something else at work in the rush to warn of approaching doom, I suspect: the timeless, rather exciting appeal of apocalyptic belief.